Be Kind an Inspiration
Kudos to promoter extraordinaire Michael Kline for masterminding last weekend's Be Kind Festival in Schouler Park. Be Kind activities during the day Saturday touched at least 1,000 hearts and that evening the concert gyrated some 2,000 souls, in a get-down way only the band Motor Booty Affair can.
The festival also reminded us of the vitality created by events in the park, both in fostering community spirit and in commerce. Kline reported not only thousands of random acts were perpetrated that day but many restaurants and hotels benefited from the extra traffic, including shops in North Conway Village, many of which were packed.
Events like the Be Kind Festival are critical for the valley to grow as a destination, particularly in off-season. Everyone has seen groups of shoppers (code for women) flood area restaurants in the fall, thanks almost single-handedly to Settlers' Green, which has turned November from an offseason to an in-season month.
Events like Volvo tennis tournament and the Equine Festival decades ago, and more recently, the Arts Jubilee concerts, helped create Mount Washington Valley's modern identity and put it on the map. That's why places like Portsmouth, Boston and Montreal, which obviously are tremendous historical and cultural destinations, still work tirelessly to host events to attract new visitors and give regular visitors reasons to return.
Staging events, however, is much, much easier said then done, particularly in Conway, where political-turf micro-battles often rule the day. An example is the skating rink in Schouler Park. Voters in April approved $5,000 to maintain it but there was lots of grumbling that it wasn't fair to benefit North Conway Village and not Conway Village.
There are also complicated logistics and permitting issues. As organizers of a farmers' market, who ultimately decided to host their market this summer at the North Conway Community Center, found out, dealing with the selectmen is not a guaranteed warm and inviting experience.
It still may be not easy for some to accept, but North Conway Village is the cultural hub of Mount Washington Valley and tourism is its major industry. The more we do as a community to support events like the Be Kind Festival, which enrich our spiritual lives as well as boost business, the better off we all will be.
Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 02:42
To skeptics of "best of" lists, recent announcements that U.S. News & World Report ranked Kennett High School 10th out of 88 New Hampshire public high schools, and Fryeburg Academy got a D on the new State of Maine Report Card confirms suspicion that rankings are a less-than-accurate indicator of a school's overall performance.
Still, a win is a win, and we congratulate Kennett High for cracking the top 10, and agree with Fryeburg Academy that it got jilted because of a quirk in the state's assessment methodology.
Each school has strengths, and both turn out lots of students well prepared for post high school life — a few of whom make it into the best colleges in the country.
What's baffling, though, is making any sense out of the cause-and-effect relationships among ranking criteria and education outcomes.
For instance, the U.S. News ratings show that Kennett's 12-to-1 teacher-student ratio is about the state average. Kennett also is about average with college readiness, which measures the percentage of 12th graders who took and passed AP tests, and average in reading state exams. In math, Kennett ranked above average, yet in a separate ranking last year Kennett students fared below average in SAT math scores.
So where did Kennett excel according to U.S. News?
Apparently in educating students who are not going on to college. A key principle of the U.S. News' rankings is schools must "serve all its students well, not just those who are college-bound."
Comparing rankings and other criteria to other schools only muddies the cause-and-effect connections.
Linwood, for example, a tiny school in Lincoln, got the top ranking and had a student-teacher ratio of 7-1.
That would suggest more teachers would improve results at Kennett, except that Kennett pays its teachers salaries in the bottom 10 percent of any school in the state, which no one would suggest improves their performance.
Then there's Hanover, which placed eighth, and ahead of Kennett, but only requires 20 credits to graduate. Kennett's minimum is 25, and the school board, perhaps to save money, is considering reducing the requirement to 23.
The point is there is no magic formula, and the quality of education is determined by an amalgam of factors: everything from teaching methods, school morale and culture, extracurricular programs to the quality of teachers and administrators, and — perhaps most importantly — parenting skills.
These factors, of course, are just part of the story, and Bartlett principal Joe Voci made a presentation this week to the Bartlett School Board summarizing in dramatic fashion a harsh reality: that the student population of towns in Mount Washington Valley is dropping fast and schools will be facing smaller or stagnant budgets for the foreseeable future.
In broad terms, Voci said these factors foretell the end of the status quo, and the new reality of changing demographics and budgets demand different and more creative thinking and approaches, which may include altering attendance patterns and sharing, consolidating and closing schools.
Despite the conflicting cause-and-effect relationships glaringly highlighted by the recent rankings, study after study points to teachers as the single most important factor that determines education quality.
Kennett has some excellent teachers, of course, but it suffers from high turnover, and anyone connected with the school over the years has watched many superstars leave for more money. Ask students what or who influenced them most in high school and invariably they will mention a specific teacher, administrator, coach or some other extracurricular instructor.
Given that voters have four out of the last five years rejected the teachers' contract — uninspiringly and unimaginably offered annually by the union — we suggest following Voci's lead and extend his call to think in new ways to an idea that runs counter to traditional notions about class size, but is catching on.
Prominent leaders including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates are coalescing around the idea of increasing class size and using the savings to pay the best teachers more. The tradeoff of larger class sizes is each child will have a better chance of having a great teacher.
It's summer, and the "budget season" is months away, but we're encouraged by the reform agenda articulated by new members of the Conway School Board and by establishment types, like Voci, sounding the alarm.
Coming to terms with stagnant budgets and fewer students is not easy, but setting the stage for long-overdue reform is a good start.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 May 2013 05:15
It's great to see plans move forward for a farmers' market in North Conway.
What's not so great is the organizers, after just one visit to the selectmen, gave up any expectations of getting any help or encouragement from the town.
The back story is local farmer Glen Mitchell and volunteer Will Abbott asked selectmen two weeks ago for help in locating a farmers' market at the town's Whitaker property. Having it there would eliminate the town's permitting fees and avoid scheduling conflicts with other events.
The meeting didn't go well, and the farmers have since chosen a new site — the North Conway Community Center, which will cost more money, including a $750 special-events permit they could have avoided by partnering with the town.
Several selectmen charged that The Conway Daily Sun's coverage mischaracterized the meeting. Two board members, Mary Seavey and Stacy Sand, wrote letters to the paper stating their support for the idea of a farmers' market. Sand also defended the selectmen's demeanor by saying it's their job to ask "hard questions," adding that "not a single selectman was against" the proposal.
If that is the case then clearly there is a disconnect between how the selectmen view their own behavior and the impression of others who watch and deal with them.
How hostile the selectmen were to the farmers is a matter of opinion, but it ought to give the selectmen pause to reflect on their style and approach if the farmers competely gave up trying to deal with them after just one meeting.
This disconnect suggests there is a leadership vacuum upstairs at town hall.
Conway is fortunate to have top level, experienced administrative staff, led by town manager Earl Sires, town engineer Paul DegliAngeli and town planner Tom Irving. It is their job to work out or investigate the details and potential problems that invariably arise from any new project or idea, including a farmers' market.
The board of selectmen, meanwhile, are the chief executives of the organization. They represents a constituency of 10,000 residents — customers, if you will. Their job is to inspire, create and encourage, not argue with residents until they go away.
Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2013 05:55
Because we appreciate the commitment and energy put in by our public officials, we try to put a positive spin even on our most critical editorials, but the selectmen's rejection of a farmers' market in North Conway is such a head-shaker that we're going to say as politely as we can what everyone is thinking.
How can the selectmen, be, so, well — not smart?
Local farmer Glen Mitchell and volunteer Will Abbott asked the selectmen to partner with a group of farmers and community members to help start a market at the Whitaker homesite.
Seems like a good thing. There are about 75 markets in communities across the state, including Berlin, which closes off a street in the summer, and whose community development director likens the market to an "open street fair."
Farmers' markets support local farmers, congregates people to downtowns — which stimulates business — and encourages everyone to eat healthful food, just to name a few of the good things they do.
But apparently not good enough for Conway. Our selectmen, none of whom — except newly elected Carl Thibodeau, who was silent on this one — have much business experience, rejected the idea mostly because of concerns about adversely affecting business.
Mike DiGregorio said he is concerned it will cannibalize local business. And Stacy Sand is worried it will hurt places like the Local Grocer, even though Local Grocer owner Heather Chase says a farmers market is a "fabulous idea."
Of course, selectmen could have checked in with chamber executive director Janice Crawford, who told us, "everyone was very excited about it from a business standpoint." She also called it a "great way to build traffic."
What should selectmen do now? We suggest they take the weekend to think it over, reconsider the positives and negatives of a farmers' markets, reflect on what people and businesses are saying, and then reconsider the idea at their next meeting.
Because what's worse than doing something not-so-smart is not fixing it.
Last Updated on Saturday, 27 April 2013 07:51
Of several strong candidates running for selectmen and police commission we endorse Carl Thibodeau and Dot Seybold.
We tip our hat to incumbent selectman Crow Dickinson and the decades of dedicated service he has offered the citizens of Conway, both at town hall and more than 16 terms in Concord as a state representative. His knowledge and experience have been invaluable, but, with a heavy heart, we feel it is time for new blood on the board.
The town would benefit of having the perspective of a successful Conway Village businessman on its governing board, and Thibodeau fits that bill. He's a guy used to getting things done, both in the private sector and the public sector — just look at the interconnect agreement between the North Conway Water Precinct and the Conway Village Fire District, which Thibodeau, a longtime commissioner, helped make happen.
Kevin Flanagan, meanwhile, the third candidate for selectman, is solid but doesn't measure up to Thibodeau's exprience. Flanagan has spent two years on the planning board and we encourage him to continue to gain experience on town boards and committees before taking another run at selectman.
Flanagan's key issue, however, that the town needs to join the 21st century by better organizing town records online, is a good one. We agree the board should make it a priority regardless who wins the election.
For police commission, there are two very strong choices, but, again, we're going with a new face and support Seybold over Larry Martin. She brings a wealth of business and board experience to the table; she is also outspoken, a quality we like, particularly on a board like the police commission that has a low public profile.
Martin has been an outstanding public official and undoubtedly would bring to the police commission the common sense approach he did serving 10 years as a selectman, but just like with the selectman's race, we're going with a candidate who is not only qualified but brings a different perspective.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 April 2013 06:54